What's next for the Chicago Bulls? - bdsthanhhoavn.com

What’s next for the Chicago Bulls?

Ever since Artūras Karnišovas and Marc Eversley took over the
Bulls’ front office two years ago, Chicago has been one of the most
aggressive teams in the NBA. Their fingerprints are all over this
roster, with notable acquisitions such as DeMar DeRozan, Nikola
Vucevic, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso.

These moves have translated to on-court success, as the Bulls
posted their best winning percentage since the 2014-15 season and
ended their four-year playoff drought. This year, Chicago was 46-36
— more wins than they had in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons
combined. (Zach LaVine and Coby White are the only remaining
players from that 2019-20 squad).

The Bulls entered the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Eastern
Conference while boasting the NBA’s 11th-ranked offense (scoring
111.0 points per 100 possessions) and 23rd-ranked defense (allowing
111.1 points per 100 possessions). 

While this season marked a step in the right direction, the
Bulls’ first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks showed that
there’s still plenty of work to be done. Despite Milwaukee losing
their second-best player, Khris Middleton, to a sprained MCL in
Game 2, the Bucks completed a gentleman’s sweep against the Bulls.
Chicago wasn’t at full strength either, with Ball sidelined due to
a knee injury and LaVine (COVID-19) and Caruso (concussion) each
missing Game 5. Still, the reigning champions were a good litmus
test.

Entering the offseason, where does Chicago go from here? Are big
changes coming?

RE-SIGNING ZACH LAVINE

Entering this offseason, Chicago’s top priority should be
re-signing LaVine, who is set to hit unrestricted free agency. The
27-year-old has emerged as a perennial All-Star, earning a spot on
the Eastern Conference squad in each of the last two
seasons. 

This year, LaVine averaged 24.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.5
assists and 2.8 threes, while reducing his turnovers to 2.6 per
game and shooting 47.6% from the field, 38.9% from three and 85.3%
from the free-throw line. 

LaVine will certainly expect a maximum contract from the Bulls,
which would pay
him
$212.3 million over five years. The most he could
receive from another team is $157.4 million over four years. This
is a relatively weak free-agent class, so it seems very likely that
LaVine will get a max deal from some team. 

The Bulls would be wise to re-sign their star shooting guard, as
replacing his production would be difficult, and the team would
certainly take a step back if LaVine signed elsewhere.

“I plan to enjoy free agency,” LaVine said recently. “We’re
going to have to experience A through Z without making any fast
decisions. I think that’s something me and [Rich Paul] are going to
go through and experience.”

LaVine was asked if the Bulls are the front-runners to sign him,
but he wouldn’t say.

“You guys have been a really, really soft spot in my heart,”
LaVine said to the Chicago media. “I have to do this as a business
decision, as a man, to not just be viewed one way and be like, ‘I’m
automatically coming back,’ or, ‘I’m automatically leaving.'”

In multiple interviews, LaVine has reiterated that he wants to
be paid what he feels he deserves.

“I just want my respect. I think that’s the main thing,” LaVine
said last August. “I outplayed
my contract; I’ve been very loyal to Chicago, I like Chicago. I
just want my respect.”

FREE AGENCY

Aside from LaVine, the bulk of Chicago’s core is under contract
for the foreseeable future. 

The Bulls have $103,181,950 in guaranteed salaries on the books
for next season, spread across nine players: DeRozan, Vucevic,
Lopez, Caruso, White, Patrick Williams, Javonte Green, Ayo Dosunmu
and Marko Simonovic. Projections set next year’s salary cap at $122
million and the luxury tax at $149 million.

Derrick Jones Jr.,Tristan Thompson and Matt Thomas will be
unrestricted free agents. Tony Bradley has a player option worth
$2,036,318, so he could opt out and test the market as well.

The team will have three restricted free agents (assuming
Chicago extends a qualifying offer to each): Troy Brown Jr.
($7,228,448 QO), Tyler Cook ($1,576,305) and Malcolm Hill
($1,576,305).

Last year, the Bulls were very aggressive in free agency, making
splashy moves left and right. Given their cap situation, it seems
unlikely that Chicago will be able to go star hunting, but they’ll
likely try to improve their depth and add certain specialists. For
example, Chicago could use a rim protector, as they averaged just
4.0 blocks per game (which ranked 27th in the NBA). Can they afford
Mitchell Robinson? Could they throw an offer sheet at or
sign-and-trade for a restricted free agent like Nic Claxton or Mo
Bamba? Can they add a veteran like JaVale McGee or Hassan
Whiteside? 

In addition to a rim protector, it would make sense to add other
defensive reinforcements as well (especially if Jones signs
elsewhere). Caruso and Ball give Chicago a strong defensive
backcourt, but they need some help if the Bulls want to improve
their 23rd-ranked defensive rating (113.2). Some of the top
defensive role players who are hitting the market include Bruce
Brown, Gary Payton II, Robert Covington and PJ Tucker. Lu Dort and
Jae’Sean Tate each have a team option, but it seems unlikely that
either will be available given their bargain contracts.

The Bulls will look to add a contributor or two using the
non-taxpayer mid-level exception, which is worth $10,349,000. Last
offseason, that is how Chicago was able to sign Caruso to a
four-year, $37 million deal, which ended up being a terrific
addition. Other players who signed for the non-taxpayer MLE last
offseason include McGee (Phoenix Suns), Tucker (Miami Heat), Reggie
Bullock (Dallas Mavericks) and Khem Birch (Toronto Raptors).

It will be interesting to see what the Bulls do in free agency.
However, keep in mind that some of Chicago’s biggest additions in
recent years were acquired through trades.

TRADES

After watching the Bulls’ front office trade for Vucevic,
DeRozan and Ball, fans are understandably thinking big when it
comes to Chicago’s trade targets entering the offseason.

Myles Turner has been mentioned as a possible target for the
Bulls since he could solve their rim-protection issues, but the
window on acquiring Turner may have slammed shut as a recent report suggested that the
Indiana Pacers are now expected to keep the 26-year-old
long-term.

Another dominant shot-blocker who may become available is Rudy
Gobert. The Utah Jazz just had another season end in disappointing
fashion, and there has already been a report that the Jazz will be forced
to choose between Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. If Utah opts to keep
their young shooting guard, a three-time Defensive Player of the
Year and five-time All-Defensive First-Team selection could
suddenly be obtainable.

If that happens, the Bulls should at least reach out and start a
conversation. Our Evan Sidery recently broke down potential destinations
for Gobert and listed Chicago as the top landing spot. Here’s
what he wrote:

Imagine the possibilities for
Chicago with Gobert patrolling the paint with Lonzo Ball and Alex
Caruso hawking the perimeter. It’s the perfect complement to
offensive dynamos Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. Chicago’s new
starting lineup of Ball, Caruso, LaVine, DeRozan and Gobert would
seemingly have no holes in it from a two-way perspective. I
absolutely love this idea for Chicago, and they should be blowing
up the Jazz’s phone this summer if it seems plausible.

Jazz receive:
Nikola Vucevic, Patrick Williams, Coby White, draft
compensation
Bulls receive: Rudy Gobert

It remains to be seen if either side would do this, but it’s an
intriguing idea.

With that said, if the Bulls are committed to Vucevic and don’t
want to trade for a new big man, HoopsHype’s Yossi Gozlan points out that an extension for
Vooch could make sense this offseason.

If that happens, perhaps Chicago just looks for a complementary
shot-blocker who can play behind Vucevic like one of the free
agents we mentioned above or more of a minor trade target such as
New York’s Nerlens Noel or Minnesota’s Jarred Vanderbilt.

It’s also worth noting that the Bulls have a $5,000,000 trade
exception that expires on July 7, 2022, from their Daniel Theis
deal.

DRAFT

The Bulls have the No. 18 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. In
BasketballNews.com’s 2022 NBA Mock Draft, our senior
NBA Draft analyst Matt Babcock has Chicago selecting Ohio State
forward EJ
Liddell

The 6-foot-7, 21-year-old junior is a well-rounded, NBA-ready
player who makes sense for a Bulls team that wants to win now. Last
season, Liddell averaged 19.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists,
2.6 blocks, 1.4 threes and 0.6 steals, while shooting 49.0% from
the field, 37.4% from three and 76.5% from the free-throw line.

“Although he is a bit undersized for the position, the Buckeyes
often used Liddell as a 4 or 5 in their lineups,” Babcock noted in
his scouting breakdown. “He is physical and versatile on both ends
of the floor, scoring both inside and out. He appears more
comfortable in the mid-range and paint, which works well for his
college system but raises questions in regards to his
translatability to the NBA. Liddell filled up the box score and
played with great effort and toughness. He has certainly carved out
a spot for himself in the 2022 NBA Draft.”

Other players who are projected to be available in that range
are G League Ignite wing MarJon Beauchamp, Baylor forward
Kendall Brown, LSU forward Tari
Eason
, Notre Dame guard Blake Wesley, G League Ignite guard
Jaden Hardy, Serbian forward
Nikola Jovic and Tennessee guard
Kennedy Chandler

If the Bulls aren’t interested in any of these prospects, or if
Karnišovas and Eversley continue to be aggressive on the trade
market, Chicago could look to deal the No. 18 pick as part of a
win-now move.

It’s worth noting that Chicago must forfeit their next-available
second-round pick after an NBA investigation revealed that they
contacted Ball prior to the start of the NBA’s free-agency period.
As it stands, the Bulls’ next-available pick is the team’s 2026
second-rounder, but Chicago can’t acquire a second-round pick
before then because they’d have to forfeit it.

***

After a few rough years, the Bulls seem to be back on the right
trajectory, and there’s no question that this team has the talent
to be a perennial playoff squad in the East. Winning 46 games
despite trying to get so many new players acclimated is impressive,
especially when you factor in the injuries to Ball, Caruso,
Williams, etc.

Even if the Bulls bring back largely the same roster, they will
benefit from that continuity and improved chemistry. However, given
what we’ve seen from this front office in recent years, don’t be
surprised if they look to wheel-and-deal in order to take the
roster to the next level.

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